London-born Kinga Markus says becoming an artist was not seen as a viable career path when she was growing up, but “nothing else felt right”. She tried studying fine art both in Cape Town and London, but found it financially too difficult to continue.
“I continued learning and making work, and went on to teach at the Art Academy, where I had started but not finished an art diploma,” she says.
Kinga now teaches painting, drawing and portraiture, and has exhibited at numerous shows in the UK, including The Mall Galleries and Cork Street.
She was digital artist in residence at the Brent Museum and Archives in 2022, as part of Being Brent – a community project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund – and a participant in the first Portrait Artist of the Year show in 2013.
“I by no mean chose the easy path to get where I am, and it’s taken me a long time to begin realising where I might fit within the artistic community and what kind of work I want to make.”
Kinga’s work includes intricate wall drawings, expressive portrait heads and Present Past, an animated film created for Being Brent. It takes inspiration from the collection at Brent Museum and Archives in Willesden, north west London, and draws on her experiences of growing up and living in the area.
Comprising over 4,000 charcoal drawings, the film offers a rolling snapshot of the shops and buildings along Kilburn High Road, giving a sense of the development of the borough and the many lives lived in its streets.
“The largest complication of any attempt to memorialise the past is the inevitable fact that what has been, cannot exist in the present,” says Kinga.
“So every memory we attempt to reproduce becomes a ‘present past’ – which is what I called the work. Attempting to capture transitory moments in the lives of people, places and objects, rendered in charcoal drawings, conveys the impermanence of existence. Each captured frame becomes a fleeting moment in the inexorable flow of time.”
The work references the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of the London borough, where 150 languages are spoken and over 64% of residents are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
“As one of the 5% of residents in the borough who identify as being mixed heritage, I was particularly eager to explore and celebrate its multicultural past and present, and shine a light on how this multifariousness is represented, and preserved, in the archive,” explain Kinga.
Her new role as Artist in Residence at The Mixed Museum is a continuation of a collaboration that started when she contributed her own personal story to the museum’s exhibition, By The Cut of Their Cloth, curated with Creative Director Warren Reilly.
“The work of The Mixed Museum has helped me feel a sense of connection and belonging to the mixed community,” she says.
“Although I’m mixed myself and grew up in a very mixed community in Kilburn, understanding and being comfortable with my own identity was not something that came easily. I think I ignored a lot about my own heritage as I didn’t grow up feeling it was celebrated – it was more seen as a burden – and I tried to escape that.”
Kinga’s recent work also includes a hand-drawn animation for a lecture-performance titled Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? (Who Took My Malay Away?), which explores artist Faizal Abdullah’s Muslim-Malay-Singaporean identity. “As somebody of Singaporean, mixed heritage, working on this project was particularly special for me.”
Although Kinga mainly works alone in her home studio, she says these collaborations brought “a richness to the creative process”, which she hopes to build on in her work for the museum.
“Collaboration opens up new forms of expression. When the academic and creative join, there is potential for something powerful to emerge. I’m hoping that in my time as Artist in Residence, I can encourage new audiences to take an interest in our mixed histories.
“I hope to create something tangible that can spark people’s imagination, and bring to life some of the wonderful characters and stories that were not deemed important enough to have visual representation.”
Chamion Caballero, Director of The Mixed Museum, says: “We are really excited to welcome Kinga as our latest Artist in Residence.
“Art has always been critical in the preservation of history, with portraiture and imagined depictions bringing past figures, communities and events to life for new generations. But only for those deemed important enough to record.
“We hope that Kinga's artwork and reflections will open up new ways of thinking about art, history and representation for those ordinary British interracial families who are often overlooked in understandings of our country's past.”
Read more about Kinga Markus and see her work at isabellkingamarkus.co.uk
Visit our exhibition, By The Cut of Their Cloth, exploring racial mixing in Brent
Read about the museum’s first Artist in Residence, Saskia Tomkins
All images and artwork copyright of Kinga Markus and reproduced with permission.
Drawing on their creative backgrounds, our artists in residence help us share and reflect on the history in our collections, in new, innovative ways, while providing them with a space to reach a new audience. Our AIR collaborations encourage all of us to challenge our ideas of museum curation, presentation and engagement.